by Greta Sharp
December 2005 — When Hurricane Katrina stuck the Gulf Coast in late August, homes were destroyed and families were displaced. Many cities along the Mississippi coast will take years to recover. Some never will. But amid all the devastation, members of the Mobile SPCA reached out to a forgotten population affected by the storm: the animals, unable to help themselves, left homeless and hungry by Hurricane Katrina.
“Without Lynn Chance’s leadership, many animals would remain lost and hungry,”
said Mobile SPCA president Janine Woods. “Thanks to her initiative, we were able to rescue, relocate and find homes for these pets.”
Not long after the storm, Mobile SPCA Cruelty Investigator Lynn Chance and her friend Lucy were enjoying lunch, and air conditioning, at a local Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant. As Chance was wearing her Mobile SPCA shirt and badge, she was approached by a German newspaper correspondent, Friedemann Diederichs, who had just returned from Waveland, Miss. The reporter had been in Waveland and told the two women about the horrible situation there, including the fact that he had picked up a few dogs and brought them to safety.
“I told Lucy, ‘I’m just going to have to do something,’” Chance explained. Thankfully, Lucy was able to stand in for Chance at work so she could head west and take care of some business.
In the span of only a few hours, Chance had pulled together a small group consisting of Craig Hart, Jimmy Ford, David Eacker, Susan Wood and Jennifer Gomes. Armed with a horse trailer and two other trucks with trailers, the small army in Mobile SPCA shirts left at 7 a.m. on Sept. 8, headed for Waveland. They carried with them dog and cat food, cat litter, crates, leashes and collars.
Just outside Waveland, they were stopped by armed guards to explain their mission. After passing through the checkpoint, the group headed to meet Diederichs’ contact, Judy English. As phone lines were down, there was no way to contact English.
“The closer we got, the worse it got,” said Chance of the surroundings. “It’s like standing in the middle of a landfill. Every once in a while, you’ll see something you know, like a sink. It all ran together.
During the storm, English spent the night in a second floor motel room, near the interstate. In the worst part of the flooding, she was chest deep in water, holding a rottweiler and a Shepard mix above the flood on a mattress.
Chance and her group met up with English and Brian Molline, near the spot where Brian’s home used to be. Brian now sleeps in a La-z-boy recliner he found after the storm. His home is a blue tarp.
During Katrina, he and his pet Chihuahua floated out the second story window of his home. English was living in a U-Haul trailer, all she could find at the time, with two dogs, sweltering in the late September heat.
When Chance’s crew met with English, the group split into two teams. That day, they found seven dogs and five cats. After leaving dog and cat food, the Mobile group headed home with the rescued animals.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’ve got to go back,” Chance told her husband, Dennis. And she loaded up on supplies and headed back to Waveland with Dennis. They rendezvoused with Brian at his location on Coleman Avenue.
All this time, Chance was handing out her SPCA business cards, more than 1,000 in all, hoping to make contacts with people who would bring her animals. “I pulled out the card with my left hand and shook with my right,” she said.
During the heat of the day, there was little luck in finding pets, but a young man at Brian’s knew where two German Shepards were living in a debris pile. With all the street signs down, it was necessary to go with someone familiar with the area.
“A child leads us in and there are two big white German Shepards, and they are not friendly at all,” Chance said. “We got as close as we dared, and tried to coax them out with treats.” When that didn’t work, Chance pulled out a bowl of water and both dogs came out and Chance and her crew were able to crate the dogs. The whole event took two hours.
“Everywhere you went, people stopped me,” Chance said. “I gave out dog food. Most wouldn’t take much. They didn’t want others to do without. I told them to take what they needed for themselves and their neighbors. These people were down for the count, and didn’t have anything but spirit and love for their neighbor.”
At one intersection, a man behind her began blowing his horn when he saw the SPCA logo on the side of her truck. Three men got out and one asked if she had seen two white German Shepards. “When I told him I had rescued two, he went to his knees, screaming,” Chance said. “But I wanted him to make sure they were his. Sure enough, it’s his dogs.”
During Hurricane Katrina, the man, his 84-year-old mother, and the two dogs stayed in a house three blocks off the beach. Driven to the roof by rising floodwaters, they clung there until the roof broke in half. After the storm, with his mother safely in a hospital, the man returned to find his dogs. When Chance showed the man where the two animals were rescued, the location was only three blocks from where his home used to stand. But what the crew thought was debris where the animals took refuge was actually the roof of the man’s home. “The dogs were staying with what was left of his house,” Chance said. “They stayed with what they knew.”
Homeless, the man was unable to take his dogs and was concerned that they would be put up for adoption. Chance brought the dogs back to Mobile to be boarded by the Mobile SPCA with a local vet until the man was ready to have the dogs again, promising him they would be returned. “That’s all he has left in the world: his mom and the two dogs,” said Chance.
More than a month after the storm, in early October, the man was reunited with his two furry friends, with TV cameras recording the reunion. “He was just hysterical to get his dogs back,” explained Chance.
Chance rescued one animal whose owner has not been seen since the storm. The dog was fostered in Mobile, then adopted by the foster family, with the understanding that if the owner returns, the dog will go with the original owner.
On Sept. 12, Chance returned to Waveland again, this time with plans to spend the night. She planned to stay with English on a cot in the U-Haul trailer and again went loaded with supplies.
Meanwhile, all the business cards she handed out were working. The Red Cross brought her rescued animals, as did the National Guard. Chance reunited a cat and owner, providing them with a carrier and food. She was also able to match a Blue Heeler with its owner. The Humane Society requested that all rescued animals to be brought to a triage hospital, not taken out of the area. “Everyone knew I was staging on Coleman Avenue where the Mayor’s Office used to be,” said Chance.
She spent time helping another man look for his cat, and when they turned up empty-handed, he gave her a $100 bill. “We appreciate everything you’re trying to do for us,” she recounted what the man said. “I never found the man’s cat.”
Another feline was luckier, though probably didn’t think so. One evening, when the cat crossed Chance’s campsite, she grabbed him up and stuffedhim in a cage. “He was a giant black cat and he was mad,” Chance laughed. “He flung water, food, and litter until all he had in the crate was mud.”
All the pets from this trip were taken to the triage hospital in Waveland, in total five cats and four dogs.
On Sept. 16, Chance traveled to Hattiesburg and the Humane Society staging area there. With all the dogs and cats in residence, room was running short. Chance brought four dogs and 17 cats to the Mobile SPCA, where they were held for 30 days before being offered for adoption.
HSUS called the Mobile SPCA back. Animals were suffering from the intense heat and could the Society take more? Chance hit the road again, this time with the air-conditioned Mobile SPCA adoption van. She managed to fit 17 dogs and 17 cats in the van and her truck.
Meanwhile, Chance’s business cards were putting her in contact with residents who were in shelters hundreds of miles away. “I got a phone call from a lady with a shelter in north Mississippi,” Chance said. “Her husband was National Guard and in Waveland. She had people in her shelter from Waveland and they were concerned about their pets.”
Lynn was able to reunite two pets with their owners. “Those dogs were some kind of glad to see those people and those people were some kind of glad to see those dogs,” she said. Chance returned again in early November with more supplies. Her friend Judy English is now living in a trailer with no heat or water, but is at least provided some protection from the swarming mosquitoes. And chillier weather has brought a new problem: no winter clothes. Mobile SPCA volunteers sent clothing along with blankets, dog and cat food, and crates for any animals she found.
“We’ve had lots of food donated,” said Chance. “I’m taking that. People out of California donated two tents and with their permission, one is going to Judy for her two dogs to keep the mosquitoes off. It’s still devastation down there.” Many animals are still living in destroyed homes. Chance has left food for English and her friends to feed them. “It’s possible that people are coming back,” Chance said. “But the chance of finding the owners after getting them in the system is slim.”
In total, Chance and her crew rescued 77 of the 300+ Hurricane Katrina animals we handled. Chance attributes her success to the sheer number of cards she handed out, along with HSUS posting animal photos on its website.
“Lynn’s courage and determination in the face of this devastation was remarkable,” said Woods. “She is a true friend to the animals.